In the popular imagination, there are multiple candidates for the symbolic end of the 1960s. Some might say that the chaotic and confused decade ended with the deaths of four attendees at the Rolling Stones’ concert at the Altamont Speedway in December 1969, while others could point to the United States's withdrawal from Vietnam in March 1973.
The death of far-left militant and convicted murderer Kathy Boudin, however, points to a far later endpoint to the convulsions of the ’60s: On Oct. 20, 1981, Boudin was among a trio of leftist radicals previously associated with the Weather Underground who, in tandem with members of the Black Liberation Army, executed a robbery of an armored car truck in Nanuet, New York. Between the robbery itself and a subsequent encounter with police, three people — Brink’s guard Peter Paige and members of the Nyack police department, officer Waverly Brown and Sgt. Edward O’Grady — were killed.
As part of the robbery, Boudin, who died May 1 at the age of 78, agreed to assist in the getaway, and upon encountering several policemen, including Brown and O’Grady, lulled them into a state of complacency and gave her accomplices a chance to gun them down. The loss of life would have been tragic no matter what, but it seems especially senseless given that the causes that exercised Boudin and her leftist tribe would have seemed so remote to America in the early 1980s. By then, the age of Reagan was upon us, yet Boudin and her fellow ex-Weathermen, Marilyn Buck, Judith Alice Clark, and David Gilbert, had aligned themselves with an outfit that called itself the May 19 Communist Organization. Why May 19? For a clue, look up the birthdays of Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X.
Born in New York City in 1943, Boudin was reared in a family to which leftist causes were second nature. Her father, Leonard Boudin, was an attorney whose attitude toward client selection seems to have been “the more controversial, the better”: In his years of practice, he defended Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, draft resistor extraordinaire Dr. Benjamin Spock, far-left bass-baritone Paul Robeson, and others. Leonard’s uncle — Kathy’s great-uncle — was Louis Boudin, a lawyer and writer whose works included The Theoretical System of Karl Marx.
The laws of adolescent rebellion might suggest that the offspring of such a family would have become a supporter of Barry Goldwater, but Kathy followed in her forebears’ footsteps and went far beyond what any of them could have ever contemplated. Her early life is full of examples of an almost comical commitment to leftist sacred cows: While at Bryn Mawr College, for example, she made a pilgrimage to Cuba and chose to major in Russian studies. But by the late 1960s, she had thrown in with the Weather Underground, the moral certitude of which in its opposition to the Vietnam War, among other causes, led its adherents to justify all manner of violent acts.
In March 1970, Boudin made a quick exit from a Greenwich Village townhouse where Weather Underground members had caused an explosion in the process of constructing bombs meant for use at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Having stayed true to her cause during her 11 years on the run, she reemerged on that fateful day in October 1981 when Paige, Brown, and O’Grady were killed, the latter two, inarguably, with her complicity.
Eventually, Boudin entered guilty pleas to charges of first-degree robbery and second-degree murder. In a twist worthy of the Sidney Lumet movie Running on Empty, she entered prison as the mother of a toddler — her son with Gilbert, Chesa Boudin, was born in 1980 and would be brought up by their former Weather Underground colleagues Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn — and became, in the lame, unironic language of the New York Times’s obituary of Boudin, “a model prisoner” who reportedly penned poems and helped AIDS patients. Her assertions of remorse undoubtedly helped win her parole in 2003.
Yet the consequences of her vile actions survive her: The families of the men whose deaths would not have occurred without her involvement in the robbery have not been “paroled” or otherwise liberated from their grief, and her son, Chesa, is the district attorney of San Francisco whose commitment to decarceration and other reform measures has had predictably deleterious results. Kathy Boudin may be gone, but the ideology that ruined her life and the lives of so many others lingers.
Peter Tonguette is a Washington Examiner contributing writer.